Filmmaker Kaspar Astrup Schröder discusses the experience of making his latest project, Learning to Forget. He shares his ideas on the process of documentary filmmaking, the importance of storytelling, and the universality of human connection.
What was the inspiration for your story?
As a father of two small boys, I’ve come to know how dependent children are on their parents, and how much they look up to them. My sons are three and five years old and I am, without question, their biggest hero. What would happen if one day the police knocked on our door and took me away, and they never saw me again? It’s hard to imagine, but it’s the reality for the children in Sun Village.
These children have been dependent of their parents all their lives, and are now left with big scars on their souls and have to adjust in the most difficult way imaginable. My intention is to create a nuanced documentary film about the children and their legacy, and also about the hopefulness that they learn to have. Children are survivors; even my two small sons who live in a very safe environment have this survival instinct that I believe all human beings have. The survival instinct of the children of Sun Village is tested in a much more extreme sense, and the film will explore the universal connection between people, and the shared human instinct to survive and find happiness.
What do you see as the greatest challenges for filmmakers today?
With technology being so highly developed and accessible to most people, it’s fairly easy to find a camera and make a film. Almost anybody in western society can make a film. But that means that the market is flooded, and it may be difficult to get your film out there to be seen by people. Flow-tv is dying and being replaced by VOD (video on demand), where a person chooses when and where they want to watch something. So I definitely think our greatest challenge is to get people to watch our movies. I try to make my stories as universal as possible, so that they can touch anybody, no matter their culture or religion. Finding your audience is definitely a challenge, but also something that is developing in exciting ways.
What new opportunities are making the biggest difference to your filmmaking process?
I don’t think that there are many new opportunities that are changing my filmmaking process. Of course it’s great that fantastic cameras are becoming cheaper and cheaper. I’m now finally shooting my films on RED cameras, which I wasn’t able to afford in the past. But that’s just technology. To me it’s all about telling stories, and that hasn’t really changed in the last couple of years. I haven’t explored crossplatform processes yet, but I do see how others are using these new opportunities to tell stories.
What was the best part about making this film?
Well we just started editing, so it’s still pretty far from done. But it's incredible to witness how the children of Sun Village manage to survive and continue to look at their lives in a positive way. And it's amazing to come in as a “rich” European and be welcomed into their sparse home with open arms. It always feels a little bit like trespassing when you first enter someone's home, so I try to give people a lot of time to get used to my presence, and lay all of my intentions out on the table. But that is always more difficult when you're working with people who speak another language, and working with children that may not fully understand what they are getting into. With the children in Sun Village, it’s been amazing to see how they have welcomed me and have wanted to be a part of the film. However, some children didn’t want to participate and I totally respect that.
Did you always know where you wanted your film’s story to begin and end?
Yes, or, I at least always have an idea where I would like to have the film begin and end. I believe it's a good idea to try to be as specific as possible with the story you wish to tell when you begin to shoot. BUT you must also be flexible and be able to throw everything away, because you’re dealing with reality and nothing ever goes exactly as you thought it would. So there is always a lot of adapting to reality, but it’s much easier to adapt if you have an idea of the story you want to tell, rather than just shooting everything without knowing what you want to use it for. So prepare, prepare, prepare, and then be willing to throw it all away.
What do you hope viewers of your film will take away from it?
First off this film provides a glimpse into something very few people know about, and something more people should know about. Children being abandoned and mistreated (if not for the help of Ms. Zhang) is definitely a story that needs attention. I hope that the audience will be moved by this story no matter who they are or where they live. I want to say that all people are connected, and deserve the same things in life: love, and the right to live.
Describe what impact San Francisco Film Society support has had on your film.
The support we have had from SFFS has been amazing. We haven’t had any creative support yet, as we are just about to go into editing now. But financially and publicity-wise, it has been great for the project, and has enabled us to move forward with some urgent shooting. SFFS has provided us with the necessary publicity to fund the project.